Summary: The preaching of the parables occurred on the day of the controversies over the Sabbath and the condemnation of the Pharisees.
The Prophetic Parables of Matthew 13
The thirteenth chapter of Matthew flows out of chapter 12. The preaching of the parables occurred on the day of the controversies over the Sabbath and the condemnation of the Pharisees. “That day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea.”
At the beginning of Matthew 12 we find the Pharisees challenging the disciples of Jesus because they had plucked the ears of corn on the Sabbath day, which is followed by the Lord’s vindication of them. Next we are told, “The Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him” (v. 14). This is followed by the healing of a demon possessed man who was blind and mute (vv. 22-24). Up to this point in His ministry this was the most remarkable miracle that Jesus had performed, in fact, it was three miracles in one. The impression it produced upon those who witnessed it we are told, "All the crowds were amazed, and were sayng, this man cannot be the Son of David, can he?” When the Pharisees heard it, they said, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebub the ruler of the demons." They committed the sin for which there is no forgiveness.
Following our Lord’s sentence upon the Pharisees for their unpardonable blasphemy, we are next told, some of the scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus to show them a sign (v. 38) and Jesus told them the only sign which should be given to that evil and unfaithful generation should be that of "the sign of the prophet Jonah (v. 39). Following this, the Lord solemnly pronounced the coming judgment of Heaven upon that wicked generation, so that their last state should be worse than the first (vv. 43-45).
The chapter closes by telling us that while Christ was talking to the people He was told His mother and His brothers wanted to talk to Him. In reply, He asked, "Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” Then He stretched forth His hand toward His disciples and said, "Behold My mother and My brothers! For whosoever does the will of My Father who is in Heaven, he is My brother and sister, and mother" (vv. 46-50). This was a severing of fleshly ties: it denoted the Savior’s break with Israel: it announced that henceforth He would only own as His kinsmen those who did the will of His Father which is in heaven.
Chapter 12 is the first key to the interpretation of the parables of chapter 13. The parables of this chapter were spoken by Christ the same day as when the Pharisees had taken council together to destroy Him, when they committed the unpardonable sin, when He had pronounced solemn judgment upon the Nation, and when He had severed the fleshly ties which united Him to the Jews and had intimated that there shall be a people united to Him by spiritual bonds. The relation between Matthew 12 and Matthew 13 is that of cause to effect; in other words, Matthew 12 makes known the cause which led up to Jesus acting as He does in the thirteenth chapter, that cause was Israel’s rejection of their King and His rejection of them. His action in Matthew 13:1 was indicative of a great crisis and an anticipation of what is developed at length in the book of Acts, God, temporarily, turning away from the Jews and turning unto the Gentiles.
The same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the seaside two lessons are taught in these acts by Jesus. The "house" is the place of ordered relationship and natural ties. This was now left when Jesus "went out" of it! Symbolically, it was a confirmation of His own words at the close of Matthew 12: the link which had bound Him to the Jews was now severed. Christ’s next act was to take His place by the seaside. This also had a deep symbolical significance for those who have eyes to see it. The "sea" speaks of fallen man in the restlessness and barrenness of nature, of man apart from God, and the Gentiles.
"And He spoke many things to them in parables (Matthew 13:3). This marked a new departure in Christ’s method of teaching. In the first twelve chapters of Matthew Jesus instructed the people in plain language, using simple terms of speech; but now His message was veiled and His meaning hidden. This explains what we are told in the tenth verse: "And the disciples came, and said to Him, why do You speak to them in parables?” The disciples were surprised by this change in Jesus’ method of teaching. The Lord’s answer to their question confirmed what is said in verse 1. His answer is recorded in verses 11-15. Jesus quotation is from Isaiah 6 and provides further proof that the Nation had rejected their King. In consequence of this rejection He had taken a place of distance from them, as this new form of teaching plainly evidenced. It is a principle exemplified all through the Scriptures that, wherever parables or symbolic utterances were employed they are addressed to a people separated from God.